How a national livestock ID and traceback system will impact each production segment varies. For cow-calf producers, compliance could involve little more than registering their premises.

However, due to the constant mobility of animals in the feedlot sector, the adoption and use of new equipment and software likely will be warranted.

The proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is an effort by USDA to safeguard the U.S. food-animal livestock herds. Achieving the ultimate goal of NAIS — 48-hour traceback — requires three key ingredients for cattle:

First, all premises must be ID'd with standardized, unique ID numbers. Next, all livestock must be ID'd individually with unique and standardized ID numbers. And finally, the whereabouts of these uniquely ID'd animals must be reported as they move from one premises to the next.

Thus far, the technology of choice for national ID and traceback appears to be radio-frequency ID (RFID). This technology allows the automatic capture of data from chips imbedded in ear tags, thus eliminating the need for hand-transfer of ID data.

But beyond the use of such software in traceback compliance, these software systems can offer a competitive edge to the producer via analytical-reporting tools that will aid in decision-making. But because beef-production systems are unique in type and software needs, one must recognize that different software packages might be more ideal in some operations compared to others.

There are many software systems available with a variety of advantages to all systems, however, a well-informed purchasing decision is key to a producer's satisfaction. This project was aimed at helping provide producers with information to begin their task of searching for a software system to meet their operation needs.

Eight software systems were evaluated based on the process of buying, installation, use, maintenance, report generation, and the cattle-on-feed simulation. Participating were:

  • AgInfoLink
  • Beef Concepts
  • eMerge
  • FeedLot Solutions
  • Global Animal Management
  • Lextron Animal Health
  • Unlimited Solutions
  • Micro Beef

What are the characteristics of an ideal RFID software package to aid the beef cattle producer in making decisions for his or her operation? After visiting with feedlot personnel, we developed an evaluation protocol, and software packages from the eight participating companies were evaluated based on a standard evaluation process. The evaluation processes consisted of:

  • Buying process
  • Installation process
  • Use process
  • Maintenance process
  • Cattle-on-feed simulation
  • Report generation

The evaluation results of each system were documented, and a spreadsheet (Figure 1) was generated to illustrate some differences between the evaluated systems. It's important to realize each software system has many advantages as well as disadvantages, and the software needed at a specific operation depends directly on the requirements of that operation.

Several items a producer should specifically evaluate prior to purchase of a software package are shown in Figure 2. However, this isn't an all-inclusive list.

A major key in producer satisfaction with a software system is proper introduction and trial periods with the software. This is absolutely key in making a well-informed decision regarding the software that will work best in a specific operation.

As described in the checklist, ample software introduction is important for the user to utilize the software to its fullest capabilities. For example, software systems received via mail with no additional instructions required additional time and effort to understand and use the software. In comparison, software systems received by mail with user guides, PowerPoint training tools, and/or online demonstrations were easier to use due to additional knowledge about the system.

Again, the author emphasizes this project isn't endorsing any software package. It's intended to provide readers, and potential purchasers and users of such software systems, with a template for identifying the system best for their particular use.

Kathryn Miller is a first-year student in the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Software Comparison Spreadsheet

Figure 1. The purpose of this spreadsheet is to depict some differences between the software systems evaluated. It by no means illustrates all the capabilities of a software system. Some software systems may have advantages in multiple areas not evaluated in this study. Each system ranges in its target market and objectives.

Figure 1
Company Ag Info Link Beef Concepts eMerge FeedLot Soln. Global An. Man. Lextron Unlim. Soln. Micro Beef
Software system Indiv. Animal Manager Bovitrak CattleLog Pro Cattle Medical System GAM Metrix Pro DE/ME LAMP CattleXpert Accu Trac Chuteside
INSTALLATION
Installation is performed by customer optional none required optional Y Y N N N
Installation key required Y N Y Y Y N N N
Installation requires technical assistance N N N N N Y Y Y
Personal technical assistance available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Web-based technical assistance available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Telephone technical assistance available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Hours of telephone assistance 24 h 24 h M-F ; 8-5 M-F ; 8-5 M-F ; 8-5 24 h variable upon service plan 24 h
Installation user's guide available Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y
Internet access required for software N Y N N N N N N
Installation is performed by company optional none required Y optional optional Y Y Y
Installation is of additional cost Y N N Y N N N variable
How long does installation take 1 day N 2 hr 8 hr 1 hr 1-2 days variable variable
Is internet access required for installation N N N Y Y N variable variable
MAINTENANCE
How often are updates required annually monthly annually annually annually variable annually variable
Updates available via CD-ROM optional N Y Y Y N N Y
Updates available via internet Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y
Updates performed by company optional Y Y optional optional Y Y Y
Technical assistance req. for updates Y N N N N Y Y Y
Updates of additional cost N N N N N N variable upon service plan N
USE
Features “Windows” look Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Vet tracking capabilities Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Feeding or ration tracking capabilities N Y Y Y Y Y Y variable
Accounting capabilities N Y Y Y Y Y Y variable
Centralized database present Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Back - up system present Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Web-based data storage available Y Y Y N Y N N Y
Real time data available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Data protection present Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Manual data entry available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Mobile data viewing features Y Y Y N N Y Y Y
Mobile data input features Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
Alternative to computer entry Y Y Y Y N N N Y
Interface capabilities with packers Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
User specific inputs optional Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Ability to trace cattle within yard Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Ability to create groups (to aid in organization) Y Y Y Y N N Y Y
Search capabilities within system Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y
Site/premise options Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Max number of animals limit N N N N N N N N
Minimum number of animals limit N N N N N N N N
User manual available Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y
Specific tags required N N N N N N N N
Specific reader required N N N Y N N N N
Customer access to cattle on feed Y Y Y N N N N Y
Data can be altered post entry Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Ability to be used in other production areas Y Y Y N Y Y Y Y
REPORT GENERATION
Total number of reports available within system 29 23 unlimited 24 0 over 100 120 + customized reports numerous
Option of customizable report Y N Y N Y N Y variable
Option of removing specific reports available Y N N N N N N Y
Output style of reports can be altered Y N Y N Y N N Y
Automatic report generation optional N N N Y N N Y N
Report generation of additional cost N N N N N N N Y
THE PURCHASING PROCESS
Number of software dealers nation wide 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 N/A
Average cost of system $500 + $1.50/head <50 head= $100/year >50 head= $200/year $695 + data charges $4,000-6,000 $1,500/one time user fee contract discussed at purchase Negotiable $.50 per head/variable
Breakdown of costs one time on-site installation fee + per animal fee system fee +$0.50/animal one time purchase fee + data charges on per animal basis initial cost - no additional charges $100/ month web portal $.03/animal record transaction fee N/A - see above N/A - see above per head basis
Years company has been in business 8 1½ yrs 12 9 7 20+ 11 35
Years developing RFID software 8 1½ yrs 6 3 6 10+ 6 13
Background in the beef industry Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Pre-purchase demo available Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Additional costs on per animal basis Y Y Y N Y N N Y
Web portal available Y Y Y N Y N N Y
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
Operating system Windows 2000, Professional, XP No Req. Windows XP, 2000 Windows 98B, ME, 2000, XP Windows XP, 2000 Windows 2000 or above Windows XP Windows XP
Min. RAM 256MB No Req. 256MB 256 MB 256 MB 512 MB 512 MB 256 MB
Hard Disk 1 GB No Req. 56 MB 200 MB 100 MB 1-2 GB 20 GB No Req.
Printer No Req. No Req. No Req. Windows comp. No Req. Windows comp. No Req. No Req.
Monitor No Req. No Req. 800×600 screen resolution 17' color 800×600 screen resolution No Req. 1024×768 screen resolution No Req.

Figure 2.

Producer Software Introduction Checklist

Software introduction upon purchase

  • Technical service/billing plan?
  • User guide — other training tools?

Ease of use

  • Software use training for personnel?

Cost

Accounting features

Analytical reporting tools for retrospective decision-making

Mobile capabilities

  • Additional software or hardware required?
  • Additional cost?

Time savers

  • Group-processing capabilities?

Data transfer capabilities

  • Future plans for data transfer?